Ever since the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, drafted NFL players have received four-year contracts. The contracts for first-round picks, however, include team options for a fifth year. The team has to exercise that contract option by May 3 of the contract's fourth year, which is why you saw a bunch of headlines on Monday about players who were drafted in 2018.
If you follow the NFL closely, you're used to this. This is, after all, the eighth draft class to which this has applied. But since not everyone does follow that closely, and because the new CBA the players and teams agreed to in March 2020 made a couple of key changes to the fifth-year option process, we thought we'd hit you with a short explainer on what this is all about.
Are these fully guaranteed salaries?
Yes, starting this year with the 2018 class. In previous years, the fifth-year option was guaranteed only against injury at the time it was exercised, then it converted to a full guarantee once the following league year began. So you could pick up a player's fifth-year option in May but still cut him the following March as long as he was healthy. The Titans did exactly that with 2017 first-round pick Adoree' Jackson, who had his fifth-year option picked up last May only to get released just before free agency opened this March. (Weep not for Adoree', by the way. Days later, he had a three-year, $39 million contract with $24.5 million guaranteed from the Giants.)
The new CBA signed last year changed the rule. Starting with the first-round picks from 2018, fifth-year options are fully guaranteed at the time they're exercised. That means, for instance, that Baker Mayfield is guaranteed an $18.858 million salary from the Browns in 2022, while Josh Allen is guaranteed a $23.106 million salary from the Bills and Quenton Nelson is guaranteed a $13.754 million salary from the Colts. All three had their options picked up by Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline.
Does that make teams less likely to pick up the option?
We had thought it might, but it does not appear to have done so. Of the 32 first-round picks from the 2018 draft, 22 either had their options exercised or -- in the case of the Raiders' Kolton Miller -- signed an extension before the deadline. That figure is the second highest in the history of the fifth-year option. The 2014 draft class had 23 of its 32 options picked up.